Distance (round-trip)

3.1 mi

Time

1.5 hrs

Elevation Gain

638 ft

Season

Spring
Summer
Fall

Weather

Cooper Canyon Falls is a beautiful and relatively easily-accessed waterfall in the San Gabriel high country. Just off the Burkhart Trail outside of the deservedly popular Buckhorn Campground, this is wonderful short day hike if you’re camping in the region, a great introduction to the high country, or a quick stop-over on the longer route to Will Thrall Peak (or, if you’re feeling extra adventurous, on the way to the Devil’s Punchbowl).

Begin at the end of the Buckhorn Campground, following the signs for the Burkhart Trail. There are a few parking spots near an outhouse and a very prominent trailhead sign, which also marks the Burkhart Trail as part of the High Desert National Recreation Trail, a 27-mile route from Buckhorn Campground to Vincent Gap via the Mojave Desert.

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Hit the trail, and you’re immediately stepping into the Pleasant View Ridge Wilderness, a 27,040-acre federally protected Wilderness Area. When in a Wilderness Area, it’s especially important to practice Leave No Trace principles. In addition, there are several regulations in effect in this Wilderness Area to protect its character, so make sure you have your dog leashed and please try to remain relatively quiet while you’re hiking. You don’t need a permit unless you are in a group exceeding 25 people.

Now that you’ve gotten that business out of the way, it’s time to enjoy the hike!

If this is your first time in the San Gabriel high country, you’re apt to be a little surprised. Unlike the more accessible and more heavily trafficked front range, the high country is short on the sage scrub and chaparral that make up the majority of the south-facing peaks in the range. Here, towering Douglas fir and Jeffrey pines dominate the landscape, while the higher elevations, northern slopes, and shaded canyons often mean significantly cooler temperatures than what you’d experience back in the city.

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Even in the late summer at the tail end of an extended drought, there was plenty of green to go around here:

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Just to your east, you may be able to hear the rushing sounds of a branch of Little Rock Creek below the trail. There are two small cascades along this route, although the trail stays well above them (and sadly, out of view).

The trail continues following the creek north through gorgeously wooded and bouldered landscapes. When you get some breaks in the tree cover, you’ll be able to make out towering, rugged peaks in nearly every direction. All in all, it’s an incredibly lovely stretch of trail.

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The trail makes a steady but moderate descent and hops across a creek bed at the 1.3 mile mark. At 1.4 miles, stay right at the junction to hop onto the Pacific Crest Trail / Silver Moccasin Trail for a hot minute.

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At just past the 1.5 mile mark, the trail makes another descent while the creek flows to your left. Look for a well-worn series of use trails descending to the canyon floor at this point.

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Carefully descend this use trail, scrambling if you need to. There are ropes to help guide you to the bottom (and help get you back up), but they’re definitely more of an aid than a necessity.

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At the bottom of the short scramble, you’ll find yourself face to face with Cooper Canyon Falls – a small, mossy cascade with a lovely shallow reflecting pool at its base. It’s a great place to have a picnic or just to relax to the sound of flowing water.

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When I hiked this route, it was the tail end of summer during a drought year, so the falls weren’t really falling that much. But during wet years – and especially during the spring – this is a pretty epic place to be.

Cooper Canyon Falls

Photo by Kolby Kirk, taken in June, 2011. Photo used by permission.

When you’re done, return back to the trailhead the way you came in.

For an extra challenge, consider hiking to Will Thrall Peak, or continuing the Burkhart Trail all the way to the Devil’s Punchbowl (assuming you’ve arranged an extra long car shuttle). You can also take the PCT west along Cooper Canyon, which will put you out on the Angeles Crest Highway near Cloudburst Summit. A walk east along the Angeles Crest will return you to Buckhorn Campground.

Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Modern Hiker, Author of "Day Hiking Los Angeles," Walking Meditator, Native Plant Enthusiast.

Camping

Dog-Friendly

Kid-Friendly

Shade

Solitude

Waterfall

4 Comments

David Xandre

David Xandre Feb 7, 2017 08:02

I went over there yesterday.
The road is so covered with snow you can't even see the difference, it doesn't even look like a road for cars.
Had to walk for at least half hour because of the immense snow it fell.
Couldn't finish the trail in time because it was getting dark and decided to head back to the car.
But I have to say it has the most beautiful amazing views I've ever seen !
It was magic !
Definitely I'm going back there again !

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Casey Schreiner Feb 7, 2016 22:02In reply to: Zvi

The Station Fire didn't reach up here and it's in beautiful condition! Buckhorn Campground is closed for the season, though, so you won't be able to park at the trailhead. Also be sure to check with CALTRANS for road conditions if you're heading up in the winter months - chains may be required or the road may be closed.

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Zvi Feb 7, 2016 21:02

Does anybody know the current condition of the trail and surrounding area? Wondering if recent wildfires have affected the area. Especially considering the damage the station complex fire did out here. Let me know! Thanks.

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jdwalley Nov 5, 2015 11:11

This is a great hike and my "go-to" hike for taking newbies (a.k.a. third or fourth dates) when you are looking for a great active hike that isn't too extreme.

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